Public Power - January/February 2009 - (Page 24)
■ Achieving Excellence in Nuclear Operations Training of the teamwork culture at Fort Calhoun, when one-on-one assistance is called for, it is made available. Exam questions are drawn from the bank of earlier exams and modified, requiring the training staff to continuously write new questions specific to the Fort Calhoun plant. In conformance with NRC requirements, when the final exam is given, students may only see one or two questions out of 50 to 100 on the exam that they have seen before. Weaver tends to believe that students at other plants might be less able to pass the NRC exam because the questions were poorly written and validated. As a result, he said, “One of the most important investments a nuclear plant can make is putting its best people in the exam-writing process, to make sure the questions can be understood, and to make sure the words and nuances are correct and in confor- mance with NRC standards.” Fort Calhoun uses an outside consultant to write the exam questions, but, Weaver said, “it would be better to cultivate the experience in-house. We want to move in that direction ourselves. It’s a rare talent, involving both art and science.” The final NRC exam consists of three parts: a written exam, a procedural run on the simulator, and a performance test in the plant itself. On the simulator, the students are asked to perform a specific procedure designated by the NRC tester, whereas in the control room, they are asked to walk through a specific procedure, but not actually operate the equipment. The final four weeks of training are spent in preparation for the final licensing exam, Fort Calhoun invites industry peers to come to their plant to do an “industry audit exam,” that is, to observe their students going through a practice run. During the final exam, said Cade, “The NRC will pick something from several volumes of control procedures, and say to the student, ‘we want to see you do this.’ Some of the procedures could actually be timed.” Nuclear operations training will take on greater urgency in the years ahead because of the convergence of three forces: downsizing of the traditional resource pool, accelerating retirement, and the likely expansion of nuclear power. Weaver emphasized that, “The nuclear Navy is not as big as it used to be, and their nuclear training programs have diminished. As a result, finding skilled operators is becoming more difficult.” Dave Bannister, vice president and chief nuclear officer, described the demographic dilemma facing the industry in the next decade. “Like many other stations, we are facing a drain of technical talent as the current generation of nuclear power professionals nears retirement.” The pinch has already begun. Fort Calhoun lost six of its trainers last year to retirement, a major loss to a relatively small organization. Some retirees return part time as consultants, but it is not the same as having operators in their prime who can manage the stress of 12-hour Public Power 24 January-February 2009
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